It’s Time for the Endangered Species Act to Become Extinct

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As homelessness sweeps across the country and people struggle to survive, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is setting aside 120,000 acres in Hawaii for 12 endangered species, including 11 plants and one fruit fly. 

It pays to be rare and endangered, if you are not a human. 

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Non-human species are protected by the Endangered Species Act.  According to the US Department of the Interior, “The ESA was enacted in 1973 as a response to the declining populations of many species of animals and plants. The Act was designed to protect and recover species at risk of extinction and to promote the conservation of ecosystems and habitats necessary for the survival of those species….By conserving them, guided by the best-available science, we help protect healthy air, land, and water for everyone.” (Bold added.)

Habitat is set aside for these species, called critical habitat. That living space must be made safe for the species being protected, which means all potential predators or threats/competitors of this species must be eliminated.

This has been going on for decades, although some organizations believe it is not happening fast enough. Currently, the USFWS, after being sued by the Center for Biological Diversity, has  been forced to set aside 120,000 acres in Hawaii for 12 endangered species. 

According to the Hawaii Tribune Herald,“The nearly 120,000 acres of designated habitat stretch across six ecosystems on Hawaii island — from the coast to dry and mesic forests and grasslands, rainforests and the slopes of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa.”

You probably have not heard of these Hawaiian plants, since they are so rare. And few people care about saving one of over 1500 fruit fly species. 

Why are these species being protected with 120,000 acres of managed habitat? According to the ESA, it’s to preserve biodiversity. It is believed that species loss will destroy the natural world, ignoring the fact that 1000s of new species are formed daily. 

The extremist view that any and all endangered species must be protected by setting aside habitat is the goal of the ESA. In practice, this means lots of killing of innocent animals and poisoning of lots of plants and insects to save one species. This is endless, like trying to keep a garden, which requires you kill the weeds, and keep out, or kill, all the snails, slugs, bugs, rabbits, rats, mice, pigs, deer, goats, sheep, and any other critter unfortunate enough to be in, or get into, the garden.  

The newly created critical habitat in Hawaii for these 11 plants will require getting rid of any animals that can eat or trample these plants, which means clearing large swaths of land to erect fencing to keep out pigs, sheep, goats, and people. It also requires pulling or poisoning trees and other plants that might compete or interfere with the protected plant’s growth. And the fruit fly needs to be protected from predators, such as birds, lizards, tree frogs, and any other insectivores, as well as any species that might eat the fruit used by these flies. Hopefully, there would not be pesticide drift from any agricultural areas being sprayed to kill fruit flies. 

The ESA and this method of preserving species was created in 1973, with the best available science back then. It was a type of quarantine for the endangered species, keeping it safe in its artificially-recreated, high-maintenance, “restored”, “native” world. 

It’s now 50 years later, and science has evolved better methods to create biodiversity, making the ESA approach to diversity obsolete. That science is bioengineering. 

Biotechnology has evolved into a powerful new force that can preserve endangered species and create new ones, too.  It’s done all the time. Genetically engineered organisms are new species, and can be designed to have certain characteristics. 

Bioengineering can also clone endangered species. There is no need for extinction of any species if it can be cloned. 

Biotech is also trying to resurrect extinct species, like efforts to bring back the woolly mammoth. 

This means critical habitat is no longer needed. We can clone endangered species and move them where they are safe, and avoid endless ecosystem management to preserve that species. 

Of course, this raises the question of whether naturally-derived biodiversity is better than human-engineered biodiversity.  However, if the goal is biodiversity, it should not matter whether that diversity is the result of mutations resulting from nature, or from a lab. 

Admittedly, the technology is still developing, but much of this is already happening. We now have new and better ways to ensure biodiversity with biotechnology, avoiding the need to set aside valuable land and pay forever to try keeping it as “native” as possible. 

This means the ESA should be replaced by the BSA, or Bioengineered Species Act. The BSA would provide the needed funding and new direction for creating diversity without killing and quarantining species. This new technology can help find peaceful ways to create and maintain biodiversity in our climate-changing, war torn, plastics polluted, deforested world.  

Of course, we must also be selective. There are limited resources, and we need to question our commitment to protecting every endangered species. Just because something is rare does not mean it is worthy of saving. Instead of just valuing a species for being rare, let’s value them for being beneficial. 

We need a policy of environmental meritocracy that guides species preservation. Why should we spend the money and effort to save just any species? We need criteria to choose which species to save, which to let become extinct, and which new species to create. 

Currently, the criteria for designating endangered species is solely reliant on species numbers. It is purely a quantitative assessment. It does not matter what qualities those species possess. They could be plants nobody would pay attention to, or they could even be noxious to humans. Or they could be insects which, under other circumstances, would be considered pests. Many times, the endangered species was hunted, or collected, to near extinction by humans, who only seem to care about what they kill when it becomes endangered. 

Obviously, we can’t save every species. Extinction is a natural process, as is new species creation. We need to use a merit-based system to assess species for saving, and leave the rest for nature to manage. 

Once we decide on which species to save, biotechnology may be the newest and best scientific solution. 

Unfortunately, our culture seems to trust nature to do the genetic manipulation more than we trust scientists. Look at the concern over genetically modified foods. But you don’t have to eat the newly created or cloned species. 

The answer to biodiversity when facing species extinctions is to create new species. But we also have to be willing to move them around to new places on the planet. This is because sometimes the climate has changed so much in its “native” area that an endangered species may need to be relocated to a more suitable place. 

This makes logical sense, but goes against another environmental dogma, associated with invasion biology, which assumes that species “belong” to a particular geolocation on the planet. The story goes that species have evolved over many years to be where they are, or at least where they were when discovered by Western colonial powers about 500 years ago. This so-called “pre-contact” environment is called “native”. Any species introduced by humans since that time are considered non-native, and do not “belong”. 

This politically-defined environmental philosophy is the basis of the ESA and the Invasive Species Act. The notion of moving species to places where they can thrive was once how things were done. Some bad species introductions that caused environmental problems have led to the current paradigm that sees humans as the scourge of the planet, spreading invasive species and endangering native species. 

It’s time to accept that humans will change the world, as we are doing. But we can do it better. And that may include saving and adding species with biotech, as well as moving species around the planet. And given the changing climate, which threatens to evict species, moving them seems essential. 

The ESA is supposed to use “the best available science” to save biodiversity. Bioengineering is now the best available science. 

Let’s better define which species to save, better develop this technology to save them, and let’s stop treating the world like it should never change. 

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